Health notes, part one: P90X


Toward the end of our Asia trip in May, I announced to Noah that I was going to start doing P90X after we got back to the States. I'd overindulged in Japan (because WHY EVEN GO if not for the Indian food and the breads and the pastries?), scaled back in Bali (palate conflicts), then indulged again in vegetable bau and parathas in Singapore. And of course, I wasn't dancing or biking or even *walking* that much thanks to trains and hired drivers and taxis abound; hence, the decision to try a fitness program.

Not a terrible decision, right? Except for the fact that we were leaving for a Europe trip in June. Committing to a 90-day program of lifestyle changes is difficult enough without throwing in factors of foreign travel, tiny accommodations, and one of the worst heat waves Europe has recently seen. Yet somehow, we managed. We figured out how to do workouts in closet-sized hostel rooms, did yoga in public parks, and even made use of an empty lobby floor on an overnight ferry between Croatia and Italy. Quite possibly the worst instance was in Budapest, where Noah almost passed out after we finished a workout in our top-floor hostel room (remember: heat rises) where the humidity was already so terrible it was hard to breathe and the mosquitoes were aplenty.

In each new city, one of the first things we did was locate all the nearest grocery stores to stock up on carrots, celery, hummus (if it was available), muesli and bran, yogurt, soy milk (almond if we were lucky), dried fruit and pistachios. I don't know how we ate that stuff nonstop for 10 weeks without getting sick of it, but we did. I actually got so enamored with muesli that after I came home, I threw fits because I couldn't find the plain, basic muesli we'd found everywhere in Europe, anywhere in America. (I realize it's not that hard to make myself, but it was the principle. Why do we have like eight flavors of Cheerios but no muesli?)

Anyway. The point is, doing P90X while hoofing it abroad during a heat wave was a shitty idea, but we managed to stick to it, every single day, without fail– until we got into a scooter accident in Italy which messed up Noah's leg. P90X came a sudden halt after that and ultimately turned into P60X. And also, we were in Italy, which meant gelato every single day (sometimes, twice a day) and lots of pizza exploration. So not only did we fall off the fitness wagon, but we pretty much abandoned ship on the whole diet thing as well. (Though to be fair, we *were* walking plenty of miles every day.)


Short-term benefits:

  • Forced daily physical activity = feeling better physically and mentally. Even if we did nothing else in our day, those one-and-a-half hours of weights or movement eventually made a difference– in our shapes, in our abilities, in our energy levels, in our sense of accomplishment.
  • Slightly better diet. Before we left for Europe, we followed the portion guidelines fairly well and were eating moderately better food. In Europe, before the accident, we still watched what we ate and tried to adhere to the principles of the guidelines. After the accident… less so. Particularly in Italy, France and Belgium. And the second visit to London. Oh my god, the banoffee pie.

Long-term benefits:

  • Possession of workout videos? For all those times when I want to squeeze in a workout but don't feel like driving to the gym? Though, I have a lot of issues with the videos– there are a surprising number of inconsistencies in the methods and the editing and Horton's humor attempts can be difficult to bear sometimes.
  • Better performance on a bike. This is questionable, but I will say: the P90X program has been my only serious attempt to improve my strength levels in a long time (at the gym, I only do cardio machines or cardio/yoga/pilates classes). And since having attempted it, I've found that my speed, endurance, and climbing abilities while biking have significantly improved. Causation here isn't impossible to believe.

The program definitely had its benefits, but I can't see it as a lifestyle, and in terms of diet, I definitely don't feel like there was any encouragement toward long-term changes. But it did get me way more interested in proper yoga and plyometrics, so that was nice. Noah keeps talking about finishing the last 30 days, but I don't feel like it works that way– to me, we'd have to start all over, and I don't know if I want to give up 90 more days to this when there are alternative programs out there. Still. We'll see.


Apples to apples


Over Thanksgiving of last year, my dad noticed I was using a Macbook Pro and asked what happened to my Air. I explained how I'd switched over, and left it at that.

Apparently, I didn't communicate the story very well and he ended up thinking I was using an extra laptop of Noah's and no longer had one of my own… and then decided to buy me one so I could gain my Macbook independence.

Of course, he has always been strictly a PC kind of guy (even though he's owned the first two generations of iPods and the iPhone 3GS), but I offered to swap MBPs (since mine didn't have the backlit keyboard, a feature that drove him nuts) so he could at least have a Mac to play around with, should the notion ever appeal to him.

One month later, he commented to me that the Mac was pretty much his main computer.

He'd also bought a really nice squashy case for my MBP and had no interest in keeping it, since his laptops are strictly stay-at-home. I already had a (only slightly less-nice) Speck skin-case that I really liked using, but couldn't say no to him, so I took it as well.

A day or two later, Noah was helping me pack for San Francisco, and I asked him if he'd like to use the case so it wouldn't just collect dust. He gladly accepted, and later we were cleaning up my room and he was about to throw away the case's packaging when I grabbed it and pulled off the little metal chain that had been used to hang the case (+ package) on the wall hook in the store.

It was small, but seemed like it would fit around my wrist, so I laid it over my left arm, found that it did, latched the ends, and it's never come off since. For over 10 months, I've worn this thing with such guarded obsession that one would think it was secretly made out of platinum and unicorn tears and Robert Pattinson's eyebrow hair.

Keep in mind that I had been sobbing on and off all that night and was a complete and total emotional train wreck nightmare. I didn't want to leave Vegas, and I didn't want to be so far from my parents, even if it was only going to be a state line and 8 hours on the road. I was basically trying to cling to whatever representation of them I could come up with, including but not limited to what in most minds was an article of rubbish.

(But to the weepy and overly distraught daughter's mind, said article of rubbish was essentially part of a gift from her father, and thus it represented his thoughtfulness and generosity. Can you blame her, then, for wanting to keep it next to her skin and have it with her for every waking and sleeping moment?)

Or even the iPod Touch. I've never really wanted an iPod because while I enjoy music– love it, even, sure– I've never felt that compelled to carry a library of music with me wherever I go. But after my dad got his iPhone, he gave me his first iPod Touch and left his 10 screens of apps and small collection of music on it. I later added my own music and download other apps to it, but otherwise have left it as-is. It actually turned buggy two months ago while I was in Holland, and while I'm almost positive a system wipe and restore would fix it, I haven't had the heart to do it. That would make it too much mine, and I don't want it to be mine. Or rather, I don't want it to become any less his. In following with the theme of the post prior to this– I love it because it was his, because he gave it to me.

It's fitting that the iPod Touch would be what turned me on to e-books. I was sitting on a plane with nothing else to do and decided to make use of one of my dad's apps, "Classics". I started reading Jack London's "Call of the Wild" and ended up glued to the iPod for the rest of the night until the battery was nearly dead and I'd finished reading. I also read "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"– something I'd been kicking myself to pick up since 2006*– through that app and finished it while Noah and I were in Bali. And two e-books read on my Mac and three weeks later, I bought a Kindle.

When I was a little kid, my dad made an offer: if I memorized an entire book (any book!), he'd take me to Toys 'R Us and buy me a toy of my choice. I remember exactly the toy I wanted– a Hook, one of the big ones (my sister had a big one, I had a little one)– and the book I was determined to memorize was "Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse".

It never happened. As desperate as I was at the time for that toy, the project overwhelmed me and I gave up halfway through the book. But I've since managed to commit other things to memory– things like beautiful poems or inspiring passages or lyrics to really trashy pop songs– things like every instance of my father's demonstration of his love for me and his tolerance of my flaws, or all the habits and quirks of his that I've inherited.

In these ways, I collect him. The little out-of-the-blue things he gives to me (like a tiny stuffed turtle wearing a bow tie which he brought back from a cruise with my mom), I hoard as a substitute for physical proximity to him, and I cling to his personality traits for the days when all these things tangible will no longer be.

Happy birthday, Daddy. I love you.

Love counts for a lot.

ma·te·ri·al·ist [muh-teer-ee-uh-list] 
a person who is markedly more concerned with material things than with spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values.
an adherent of philosophical materialism.
concerned with material things; materialistic.
of or pertaining to philosophical materialism or its adherents.

On the one hand, I don’t believe myself to be “more concerned with material things” than I am with non-material values. On the other hand, I frequently do find myself concerned with material things.

So I’m not *a* materialist, but I have materialist tendencies?

It’s something I’ve been mulling over. For the last year or more, I’ve kept William Morris’ words in my head, especially when I go through “spring cleaning” modes– “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” (The Beauty of Life)– and Noah’s going through this extreme minimalism phase where he attempts to own as close to nothing as possible… but I still hold on to things that are neither useful nor beautiful.

Sometimes, it’s just laziness. Like the cup full of pens that I have moved seven times since 2004, even though said pens dried up around 2005. 

But most times, it’s sentimentality. Like the ‘30s- and ‘40s-era watches my grandmother used to own. They aren’t particularly beautiful (except for one) and the wrist straps are worn and frayed (and a little too big), and while all of them still wind up, none of them keep time accurately. I’ve made the excuse that one day, I’ll go to a watchmaker and get them all fixed, but I know in my heart that I’m not holding on to them because of the plan to eventually make them useful again. They could be completely beyond repair, and still I’d take them everywhere with me. 

I love them simply because once upon a time, they used to belong to someone I loved, someone who loved me. I like to make up little stories about them– maybe she was wearing this watch when she met my grandfather, or when they went on their first date, or when they had their first kiss, or when she realized she was in love with him, or when he asked her to marry him. Maybe she used to wear that watch while she prepared dinner– did she check it to see how much longer it would be before my grandfather would return home?– or when my mom was a little girl and they walked hand in hand while crossing the street.

It doesn’t matter if the stories are true, or even close to true. They aren’t really the point, which is– all the watches in the world, and my grandmother chose to own and wear these ones. And I can’t ever remember her wearing them while I was growing up, so she also chose to hold on them– long after they’d stopped working, surely– and keep them safely stowed away. She must have cared about them. And that’s why I keep them near me. Not because they are beautiful, not because they are (or have potential to be) useful, but because they are hers and because she is gone and because I can’t be near her anymore.

Anyway. I’ve lately found more ease in applying the Viridian Design Movement to my life, which recommends one have in one’s life only:

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.

Which is basically just a modification of Morris’ wisdom so as to read: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful, or feel to be emotionally important.”

But what this all really boils down to is: I wonder, years and years down the road, will there be someone who loves me enough to cling stubbornly to some small and random trinket just because it was mine?

(I really hope it’s not a pen cup.)

Heirlooms. They don’t always exist because they’re worth a lot of money. 

Selected highlights from around the world


Oh, everything. Walking down streets and local spots and landmarks that have been in the majority of the literature that's filled my life. Tesco and the Tube. Banoffee pie. Comfortably imagining a life there. Ottolenghi.


Learning that public sex is legal, but public masturbation is not. Picnic in Vondelpark after Netherlands eliminated Brazil from the World Cup. The adorable canals and architecture. Riding my (rented) bike back alone after a long night of dancing.


Painfully amazing organic mango-vanilla yogurt. The Jewish Museum. Loaves of bread that weigh 5 lbs. Chanterelle mushrooms.


St. Vitus' Cathedral and the Old Town Square: massive, looming, incredible. All the fascinating gargoyles on the Cathedral. Playing with our flat owner's tiny Russian Blue kitten.


The open-air market where we were almost charged 70€ for dried fruit because we were stupid enough to patronize the first stall we saw. Lesson learned: always price shop because everyone has the exact same merchandise.




Surviving a ridiculously chaotic week of work. Evening walks along the water. The charming family who owned the house where we were boarding and who practically welcomed us as though we were two of their own. Makrovega, the vegan restaurant right around the corner from the house. Vegetarian fake-meat sticks.


Our first meal in Italy: a shared bomboloni, Caprese salad, tiramisu. The mozzarella was so good– so perfect— that tears actually came to my eyes when I took my first bite. We never again had mozz that exquisite. (The sweets also made us roll our eyes at the injustice of the general inaccessibility of Portonovo.)


BIKE RIDE! I found a shop that rented out road bikes (they call them "race bikes"), so Noah and I rode from Florence to San Gimignano on sprightly little Bianchis, and I was practically singing the whole way. I loved the endless ancient hills and the beautiful countryside landscapes below (and the medieval structures in the distance). Scootering through Chianti and picnicking by a lake and making friends with three butterflies whom I fed green grapes. Driving to Pienza and discovering a love for Pecorino cheese, all ages but in particular fresh.


5€ sunglasses. Paying admission to visit the most prestigious museum in all of Europe only to discover half the exhibits (read: all the most interesting ones) were closed. (The pizza was okay.)

Amalfi Coast

Gelateria Primavera in Sorrento, every day. Lemon terraces. Lemons the size of footballs. Eating fresh pasta with an improvised arrabbiata sauce on our last night– the only pasta in my life that's impressed me. Walking through the ruins of Pompeii while listening to Rick Steve's audio guide.


Watching "Gladiator" after going to the Coliseum. Randomly wandering into a craft beer store that also sold artisan unifloral honeys and sharing our carrots with the owner. The walnut gelato at the owner's restaurant the next night (which he awesomely comped for us). 


Pita bread and hummous, every day. Float-walking through the Dead Sea. Barbecues and picnics and parks. Broccoli schnitzel. SHAKSHUKA.


Realizing I kind of prefer the Las Vegas version.


Again, everything. Fresh bread and pain au chocolat and cheese every morning. Feeling more adept at conversing in French by the hour. Impromptu take-out dinner by the canal. Picnicking in an enormous field at Parc de la Villette and watching "Grease" under the stars with thousands of other Parisians who cheered and laughed at all the right moments and sang along to every song. A boisterous dinner on the last night where we took up half the tables in the back room and constantly passed plates and bottles back and forth.


Leonidas chocolate (most notably: "Africa"). Tasting the difference between a 3€ Liege waffle and a 1.50€ one.

When you follow a dream, you’d better do it with a heart overflowing

We'd just arrived back in Italy from a 10-day stay in Israel. We were in Venice, attempting to make reservations to take the overnight sleeper train later in the evening to Paris, when we suddenly found ourselves and our plans– pun only half-heartedly intended– derailed. We were stranded.

In Venice, which shouldn't be so bad. We could have been stranded in the middle of nowhere, where there were only silos and cows and hand-cranked electricity generators or something, instead of a high-profile city filled with good restaurants, hotels, buses, boats, trains, airplanes, and (though somewhat hard to access) wi-fi. It could have been worse. But even though it wasn't worse, it was still bad. Unexpectedly finding yourself stuck somewhere against your will, even if it's only for one night (which it was, for us), even if it ends up bearing positive consequences (which it didn't, for us), is never good.

Also, Venice is fucking *expensive*.

Continue reading

On investing, hope, and expectations. Commas optional.

Last night, we left the house with the plan to go watch the meteor shower. Keyword: plan. And this was a conscious plan, mutually agreed upon by all three of us– "hey, tonight let's go check out the meteor shower!"– so there was really no question as to any of our intentions for what we wanted to do. We wanted to go see meteors, showers of them.

What we ended up doing was hanging out in a park where there was tons of light pollution (apparently, one has to drive 50 miles away to even begin to escape it) and barely any evidence of stars, let alone meteors.

The last time I set out to watch a meteor shower was for the Leonid shower in November 2001 (which was said to have given the "best shooting star show in 35 years"). A group of us hiked through a forest, stopped when we came to a decent clearing, and camped out on rocks and a ground covered with a thick blanket of dead pine needles. It was so tranquil, so peaceful, so quiet– the kind of quiet you can taste in the air and feel on your skin. And, oh, the sky– a black expanse mottled with shades of blue, and glittering stars as far as the eye could see. The meteor shower, beautiful and awe-inspiring as it turned out to be, was just icing on the cake of that expedition.

As well, when I lived in Vegas, I would occasionally take off in the middle of the night with a friend, and we would drive out of the city– drive and drive and keep on driving– until we were in an empty stretch of undeveloped desert, or in a tree-filled recess of Mt. Charleston, and there, too, we would be so filled with wonder by the majestic sky above us that we would go hours without speaking.

(On a side note: is it appropriate or ironic that one has to remove oneself from civilization to contemplate and appreciate the humility of humanity's minuscule existence within the cosmos?)

But back to tonight. I'd had these and other similar visions in my head upon hearing the meteor-shower plan. So when we ended up at the park, I was hugely disappointed. Like, heart-heavy and foot-dragging disappointed. I laid down in the grass and silently (but amiably) listened to the others chattering and stoically kept my sight on the hazy sky, determined to keep a vigil. All the while, I kept pushing off the dismay of the situation.

What's interesting, however– and I was fully aware of this at the time– was that if we'd left the house with the plan to just hang out at the park, I would have been perfectly satisfied with the night's turnout. (Though I still would have been quiet due to the millions of panicked and obsessive thoughts that were racing through my head.)

It's an odd thing, context. Or expectations. Like thinking you're about to drink water, and being repulsed by the realization that it's Sprite, even though under normal circumstances, you're a big fan of Sprite. When you have expectations, you invest hope for a specific outcome, and when you invest yourself in anything, you open yourself to risk of disappointment. 

True, you could ward off disappointment by simply avoiding expectations altogether. You could just approach the glass of clear liquid and sample it apprehensively. Is it water, or is it Sprite? Either way, you're expecting nothing, so whichever it is will turn out to be a pleasant discovery. To be fair, it could also turn out to be grappa or rubbing alcohol, but since you initially expected nothing– which is equivalent to being prepared for everything– you can't really be disappointed. Only disgusted. 

Of course, going through life without hope, without investments, just to play it safe, is no way to live. We must risk to gain, and invest hope to risk– as Kierkegaard says (and as I never tire of quoting), "Without risk, there is no faith." The hammer-blow of disappointment is a teaching tool, as we learn thus to cope, adjust, bounce back. 

The hammer-blow of disappointment is a grim and unwelcome teaching tool.

But graduating students are all the richer for the education. I'm still working to get certified. I know all the procedures but am still a bit slow on the execution.

In the end, over the course of two hours, I saw one meteor and spent the rest of the time trying to ignore the scratchy grass and the occasional mosquito, and writing this post in my head. And also wondering about how to end this post, which I never figured out, so I guess I'll just leave you with a nerd video I can't stop loving:


I'm not closing up shop, not just yet. That being said, in my absence here, I've been erratically submitting doodlebug thoughts over at Posterous for some time. Wasn't sure if I was going to stick with it, and it's particularly hard to remember to upload things from my mobile when I'm abroad and without a data plan, but as it turns out, Posterous is something of a keeper. So that's that.

Michael Scott != Darrin Stevens

We've been doing P90X (as well as, it seems, the rest of this crazy nation) and from Day 2, I can't get through a single routine without thinking about how, if Steve Carell ever wanted to leave "The Office" and NBC just *had* to keep the show running with his character, Tony Horton should be the first guy on the list to call.

Or how there ought to be an episode wherein Michael 1) denounces how completely unfunny Tony Horton's jokes are, or 2) declares Tony Horton his funny-man muse.

And then this morning, our first round of Core Synergistics (which is the only one so far I despise; I'd rather do two rounds of pilates)– THERE'S A GIRL NAMED PAM. "Pam the Blam!" as Tony sings out in the beginning, then later re-introduces her as "Plam". Oh, Tony. Such a kidder.

And NOW, this:

Fate. This is fated. I only hope the cast and crew of "The Office" is ready to bring it.

Nobody talks about your mom like that to me, see?

The pavement was all kinds of bad-mouthing your mom the other day while I was riding my bike, so I jumped off and gave it a piece of my mind. I've got your back like that, Internet.


 Alternatively, I was crossing the street (on bike) down by the piers after dinner. There was a gradual curb at the median strip, and I only saw the gradual.

(P.S.: that bottom knuckle on my small finger? Still swollen from when it got slammed by a football. IN MARCH. Sigh.)